‘Absolute tripe’: our readers on the worst football matches they have seen

‘A 14-hour day for absolutely nothing’

Crystal Palace 0-3 Swansea, 2010
As a Swansea fan you would think I have great memories of this one right? Wrong. Perhaps the biggest problem was that I didn’t get to see the game at all, despite a 400-mile round trip.

My wife and I left early enough, at 8am. Or so we thought. Until we caught roadworks in Bristol. And then there was a crash on the outskirts of London. And then I didn’t realise how much of a pain it is to get a car from the M4 and head downwards to South London, which has to be one of the most inhospitable road routes on earth.

Cut to 3pm and we’re listening on the radio as Scott Sinclair scores the opening goal. Great. We eventually get there at 3.55pm. I get out of the car and my knee gives way momentarily thanks to cramp. We walk towards the ground. We hadn’t bought tickets as it was pay on the day. “It’ll be fine,” we’d said. Except what they don’t tell you is that tickets go off sale the minute the game kicks off.

We hover around the ground for a while, listening to the Swans score two more goals. We appeal to a steward to let us in for the last 10 minutes. He does not. So we cut our losses and get back on the M4 and head home. We get caught up in traffic again in Bristol and don’t make it back until 10pm. A 14-hour day for absolutely nothing. Great times. Andrew, 41

‘I shot a jet of urine down my left leg’

Aston Villa 4-0 West Bromwich Albion, 1998
At Birmingham city centre I couldn’t find the right bus stop to Villa Park, causing me to get there just before kick-off. I had wasted so much time that I was desperate to go to the toilet, but there were huge queues to get into the ground and, once inside, there were huge queues for the toilets. Just when I thought I’d made it, a combination of stiff buttons on a new pair of Levis, button-up long johns and button-up boxer shorts resulted in partial failure as I shot a jet of urine down my left leg before hitting the urinal.

Feeling uncomfortable and smelling of piss, I take my place among the Villa fans as I couldn’t get a ticket for the Albion end. I’m right behind a pillar, which might actually have been a good thing because I could barely see the Albion getting tonked. So, I’m in the middle of thousands of Villa fans who are abusing my team, having wet myself. The magic of the FA Cup. Chris Lees, 56

‘Even a mass brawl couldn’t save this wreckage’

Sunderland Ryhope 0-0 Liversedge
Starved of football in 2020 with non-league suspended and professional games being played behind closed doors, I decided to get down to Sunderland for this third round tie in the FA Vase, confident that the crowd would not exceed the permitted maximum so I’d get in. I did. And how I wished I hadn’t. Not just was it 0-0, but it was a game almost entirely devoid of action. The first half was the worst I’ve ever seen, the second only marginally better. The home team lost the penalty shootout; I lost the will to live. Even a mass brawl on the final whistle couldn’t save this wreckage. Andy Clark, 61

‘My wife turned to me and said: never again’

Chelsea 0-0 Southampton, 2002
It was a dreary Boxing Day and my wife and I were living in Battersea. I convinced her to come along to her first match. She had a bit of a cold but came at my urging. The match was terrible: a goalless draw that was completely devoid of anything. The most excitement came when a Chelsea shot near the end hit William Gallas on the backside. After the final whistle my wife turned to me and said “never again”. She has not been since. Vincent Savard, 54

Boxing Day misery for William Gallas as Chelsea fail to score against Southampton.
Boxing Day misery for William Gallas as Chelsea fail to score against Southampton. Photograph: Adrian Dennis/AFP/Getty Images

‘We spent the second half betting on plastic bags’

Luton at home in the Conference
It was a cold, windy day and, rather than watching Luton and their equally inept opponents flounder around, we spent most of the second half betting on which of the two plastic bags blowing up and down the pitch would reach the halfway line first. I have no recollection of who the opposition were – a true nadir in the 52 years of watching Luton in five different divisions. Yvonne Fletcher, 52

‘If there were any good bits, I missed them while at A&E’

Bolton 1-1 Everton, 1979
I got frozen to the bone in order to watch us lose our best player (and, down the line, a whole bunch of money) in a meaningless, abandoned fixture that should never have kicked off in the first place – and, insofar as there were any good bits of the game at all, I missed them as I was in A&E.

It’s New Year’s Day in 1979 and there is heavy snow across much of the country. Most fixtures are cancelled but, for some reason, the referee saw fit to go ahead with Bolton’s home match against Everton in the First Division.

The unsuitability of the conditions quickly became obvious to me during a pre-match lunchtime kickabout with my brother and friends; I slipped, fell and smashed my lip open on the icy ground. Stitches were clearly needed. No matter, my dad decided, we’d leave a bit earlier than planned, stop at the Bolton Royal Infirmary on the way, get my mouth fixed, and continue on to the game.

A&E being rammed with similar victims of the icy conditions, I had to wait a while to get my lip sewn up. By the time we got close to Burnden Park, we’d already missed a good chunk of the first half. It was brutally cold, snow was again falling heavily, and you could have skied down the Manny Road. It seemed unbelievable that the game could still be on, but the noise from the stadium told us that was indeed the case. We got in the ground and found out that the score was 1-1 – we’d missed the goals. We were, however, just in time to see Bolton’s best player, Peter Reid, get carried off injured after he slipped in the snow and collided with the Everton keeper.

At half-time, the snow was falling even more heavily. We sat shivering as second half kick-off time came and went, until the officials finally bowed to the inevitable and abandoned the game. We trudged off back to the car; I remember it taking about four hours after the game to feel properly warm again.

Reid had badly damaged his knee ligaments; he wouldn’t play again for nearly a year. This probably contributed to us getting relegated the following season. The injury also crashed Reid’s transfer value: when he finally moved in 1982 (to none other than Everton), it was for a mere £60,000 – a fraction of his pre-injury valuation. Of course it was one of the great bargains of all time for Everton, as Reid became a key component of the great Howard Kendall teams of the mid-1980s. But for the perpetually cash-strapped Bolton, it was a bitter pill to swallow. Giles, 54

‘Getting home was a nightmare’

England 0-0 Chile, 1989
First, there was a tube strike, which made getting to Wembley almost impossible. But we made it – and only 15,628 did (the lowest crowd for an England game at Wembley). Then it was a 0-0, and an almost chanceless 0-0 at that. And then John Fashanu made his England debut, which gives you an idea of how committed the team was to finesse that evening. And finally, there was still a tube strike at the end, which made getting home a nightmare. Imagine a game being memorable solely for its low attendance and the presence of John Fashanu. Michael Hann, 53

John Fashanu in action during his England debut against Chile at Wembley in May 1989.
John Fashanu in action during his England debut against Chile at Wembley in May 1989. Photograph: Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images

‘The closest I’ve ever got to purgatory’

Bristol Rovers 0-0 Plymouth Argyle, 1986
If the phrase “a cold Tuesday night” is a cliche, I am pretty sure this was when that phrase was born. Rovers were playing at Twerton Park in Bath, a stadium with the claim to fame of being the ugliest building in the city, and the lure of the most minor of cup games against a supposed West Country rival (despite the 150-mile gap between the clubs) was not enough to persuade much more than a few hundred fans to make the trip from Bristol, let alone from Devon.

However, boredom led my brother and I to take a punt on seeing what could turn out to be an entertaining game. How wrong we were. I remember little of the match, apart from the fact that there was not a single chance for either side. The howling wind made the ball uncontrollable for the two sets of players, who were limited in their abilities even in the best conditions.

The ball was hoofed, taken by the wind, mis-controlled, put out for a throw-in. And then the sequence would begin again. And again. And again. I spent two hours freezing, listening to my brother attempt to blame me solely for the decision to go. It genuinely still fills me with a sense of horror and is possibly the closest I’ve ever got to experiencing purgatory. David Thomas, 50

‘Nothing happened for 90 minutes. Then another 30 minutes’

Brentford 0-0 Wrexham, 1991
I went because someone I knew from school was playing for Wrexham. It was brutally cold, with about 2,000 fans rattling around the ground. Nothing happened for 90 minutes. Then it went to extra-time and nothing happened for another 30 minutes. Then we had penalties and Wrexham missed all of theirs. At full-time they played the Jan and Dean song Surf City – either to give a California sunshine vibe or (more likely) to take the piss. Dafydd Jones

‘I had spent my bus money on whisky’

Huddersfield 2-0 Grimsby
We stood in the pouring rain at the open away end of a huge bowl for two hours and watched Grimsby get beat 2-0. The game was bad but what followed was worse. I walked through Huddersfield to catch my train. As I headed up a hill towards the station, two big skinheads oozed out of a doorway where they had been waiting for someone like me. One of them asked me where I was from. Grimsby would have meant big trouble. I rediscovered my almost-lost Glaswegian accent and said: “Glasgow.” That confused them. One of them asked me where I was going and I told them to the pub I had just spotted across the road. That confused them again.

As they thought about beating me up, I crossed the road and walked into the pub. I was pretty scared. For some weird reason, probably fear-induced, I ordered a whisky, even though I was still into shandy in those late teen years. I don’t remember if I drank it, but I paid and left shortly afterwards, running to the station and hoping not to bump into my new friends. I got on the train safely and arrived back in Hull an hour or so later. Only then did I realise that I had spent my bus money on the whisky. A four-mile walk in the same rain followed. I eventually got back to my bed, miserable, cold and skint, if still in one piece. Alan Nocker, 62

‘Every single minute was miserable’

Brighton 4-0 Barnet, 2008
My friends said they were coming with me, so I bought my ticket and got off work early. None of them came so I was on my own. The game was terrible. We lost 4-0, the first goal coming after only 90 seconds. The ground and pitch were both appalling. Both teams ended the game with 10 men. Several Barnet fans were thrown out for being drunk and belligerent. The train back to London was delayed. Seven hours of my life I will never get back. Every single minute was miserable. Victoria Sharkey, 45

‘I ended up sleeping in an outside toilet’

Barnsley 5-1 Ipswich, 1990
Ipswich lost 5-1, it was midweek and I didn’t realise there would be no trains back from Sheffield to London after the game. I took a train to Doncaster thinking there would be trains from there, but there weren’t. I walked to the A1 and tried to hitch back, unsuccessfully, and ended up sleeping rough in the outside toilet of a church hall. I had to pay again to catch the first train back to London the next morning. I’ve always checked train times after that and now drive to games. Robin Lancaster, 55

‘We barely had a shot on goal for a decade’

Wimbledon 1-3 Everton, 1993
There were 3,036 people there and I was one of them. As an avid Wimbledon fan who played Saturday football, I could only go to midweek games. We had a series of matches against Everton in the 1990s that now melt into each other – they were all freezing cold, most of them ended 0-0 and no one apart from me and a couple of mates went. I don’t think we won any of them, barely having a shot on goal throughout the decade. I went last season, when we failed to win for 29 games in a row, but even that run wasn’t this dismal. Trevor Pearce, 53

Empty terraces at the Wimbledon v Everton Premiership fixture 26-Jan-1993
Empty terraces at the Wimbledon v Everton fixture in January 1993. Photograph: PA/Alamy

‘I made my way home in a daze’

Newcastle 1-3 Scunthorpe, 1958

At 12 years old, I had only recently begun to watch Newcastle United at St James’ Park. My dad worked on Saturday afternoons and my pal Tom was not allowed to go without an adult, so I went on my own. We were doing badly in the league, but this was the FA Cup. Newcastle were a cup team; we had won it three times in the early 1950s. We had just beaten Plymouth 6-1 in the third round. Surely this was our year to win again – Scunthorpe at home in the fourth round, it would be easy, another six goals at least.

I left home at 12.30pm to be first in the boys’ queue. Despite all of the anticipation, we lost 3-1. In football language that I had yet to learn – we didn’t turn up. Newcastle were completely outplayed by Scunthorpe. I made my way home in a daze, in shock. How could this have happened? Maybe there was something at fault? Maybe the result would be cancelled? It was not, of course. Welcome to a life of supporting Newcastle United. Peter Foster, 76

‘My uncle gave me a nip of rum to help me stay alive’

Wales 1-0 Northern Ireland, 1978

On a cold Friday night in May 1978, I was one of 9,000 souls trembling in the cold at the Racecourse Ground in Wrexham to see the perennial worst game of the Home Championship: Wales v Northern Ireland. And a stinker it was – what little we could see through the sleety mist. A nailed-on 0-0 with few players looking interested. Dreadful game. My uncle gave me, a schoolboy at the time, a nip of rum at half-time to help me stay alive. Awful. But weirdly, I just checked the results and apparently we won 1-0 thanks to a 70th-minute penalty. So dire was the game that this had completely vanished from my memory. Guy Hearn, 55

‘It was absolute tripe’

Watford 0-0 Grimsby, 1998

I was a young Manchester United from Ireland going over to visit my uncle and his wife in London for a weekend. My parents had shipped me off to give them a break and told my uncle, well in advance, to sort out tickets for a football match as I was a fanatic at that age.

I land over and my uncle has completely forgotten to get any tickets or really organise anything – he had, and still has, no kids – so I spent the Friday night in their apartment eating Wagon Wheels and watching TV with them. Saturday morning comes and he is looking for a game to attend – and that we will be able to get into. He settles on Watford v Grimsby for some reason. So we trek across London to what was a fairly crap stadium at the time. However, I’m excited to be going to a match because as a kid the build-up is almost better than the game itself.

Then the game started and it was absolute tripe. I sat there looking at these two teams just lumping the ball back and forth for 90 minutes and the only time that I can remember there being any sort of cheer was when Gifton Noel-Williams started to warm up.

That day killed my dream of being a footballer. I thought to myself that anything, even a life in the world of finance, must be better than this. I haven’t been back to visit my uncle since; I haven’t been to Watford since; and I haven’t been as bored since. I live in a relative state of happiness now – living relatively for the moment and content with my lot – knowing that a Watford v Grimsby game may never be too far away. Bryan Murray, 36

‘It was like being in a jungle’

Newcastle United 0-1 Manchester City, 1960

This was the first Football League game I attended. I think my father thought it wouldn’t be too crowded as it was the last game of the season. However, for an eight-year-old it was like being in a jungle. Standing at the front of the paddock I was virtually below pitch level, so I was lifted up on to the perimeter edge and sat there for about 20 minutes until it became too uncomfortable and I joined the crowd on the terraces. But I could only see some action by looking through gaps in the crowd.

In essence all I saw was a tangle of legs, the odd sight of the ball, but memorably a mazy dribble by a young man, Denis Law, who had just signed for Manchester City. I can’t remember much else. It wasn’t the best introduction to professional football, but it set me off on a long road which has always been travelled in hope more than expectation. Nicholas Johnson, 70

Manchester City captain Ken Barnes giving a No8 jersey to his new teammate, 20-year-old Denis Law, who has just been signed for a record fee of £45,000 to become the costliest player in English football in March 1960.
Manchester City captain Ken Barnes gives a No8 jersey to his new teammate, 20-year-old Denis Law, who has just joined for a record fee of £45,000 to become the costliest player in English football. Photograph: PA

‘This was two teams with no clue’

Ormiston 0-0 Craigroyston, 2021

Ormiston were having a terrible season, having conceded 35 goals by the start of October and having yet to score a single goal at home. Astonishingly, they weren’t bottom of the table – Craigroyston were. Surely their meeting would produce something exciting. Both defences were so dire that Ormiston might even score their first home goal of the season, and Craigroyston might manage an away win to take them above their opponents in the table.

But no. Not one single effort on goal was managed by either side. These were two teams with no clue. Only once did one of the sides string together four consecutive passes. Nowhere was a midfield to be found, and no forward could control a pass or take a pop at goal. Don’t be tempted to think that this was because the defences were any good, though. You couldn’t really tell given that neither really had to bother. For the 40 or so watching, it was an endurance test like no other. Rubbish ground, too. Mark Nixon, 50

‘It was cold. It was wet. It was windy’

Barrow v Horwich, 1993(ish)

It was cold. It was wet. It was windy. The wind whipping in off the Irish Sea carried portents of gloom as well as cold air to the assembled throng. It was a Lancashire Cup game – the lowest rent of all the myriad non-league cup competitions. The half-interested teams ambled around in front of the even less interested crowd, who were there out of a sense of duty and a determination to avoid Coronation Street rather than any kind of enthusiasm.

As the visitors took a two-goal lead, the home crowd consoled themselves with the fact that this was, at least, the end of our participation in this worthless competition. A consolation goal was tolerated but the last-minute equaliser was met with howls of frustration as extra-time loomed. My dad, standing next to me, uttered the words “I’ve had enough of this” and that was it. After taking us to our first game in 1984, he had decided that this was his swan song. From then on, my brother and I had to make our own way to games. Teenagers, subjected to the vagaries of the rail network as we navigated our way around the Unibond league as Barrow huffed and puffed their way to midtable mediocrity.

Dad never lost interest completely, keeping up with the scores, the comings and goings, the ups, the downs and the additional downs. He couldn’t be tempted back though. Not even a trip to Wembley for the FA Trophy final in 2010 could get him back on the bandwagon.

In 2012, my first daughter was born and, as soon as she was old enough, I was putting her in the car and taking her to home games. Eventually the prospect of multi-generational attendance, allied to Barrow reclaiming their place in the Football League, proved too much of a lure and my dad decided to come back to Holker Street. Like slipping on a pair of comfortable shoes, he fell right back into the groove and while his attendance is sporadic, the flame that flickered so perilously close to extinction has recovered some of its gusto and the light continues to shine.

Rochdale away will be our next game together. Me, my daughter and my dad will be enduring and enjoying it together. Can’t wait. David Ingham, 43

Thanks to everyone who took part. We had hundreds of responses and could easily have used all of them but simply ran out of space. Thank you.

The Guardian